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Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed Management

Shiawassee Conservation District
1900 S. Morrice Rd.
Owosso, MI 48867
(989) 723-8263 ext. 3


Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed Management

Watershed management, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is a coordinating framework for environmental management that focuses public and private sector efforts to address the highest priority problems within hydrologically-defined geographic areas (EPA 1996). Basically, this means working within a drainage basin to ensure that the water that flows off the land does not pollute surface and groundwater resources.

What is a Watershed?
A WATERSHED is an area of land that drains to a common point, such as a river or lake. No matter where you are, you are always in a watershed. In fact, you are in multiple watersheds all at the same time. For instance, in North America, the Continental Divide separates the land that drains to the Atlantic Ocean from the land that drains to the Pacific. Within each of these two very large watersheds are a multitude of smaller watersheds of all different sizes. In Michigan, our water drains to the five Great Lakes. Within those Great Lake Watersheds in Michigan, there are 63 major “sub” watersheds.

What Watershed Are You In?
In Shiawassee County there are four major sub-watersheds, the Shiawassee, the Maple, the Looking Glass and the Flint River Watersheds. A bit more than half of the rainfall that falls on land in Shiawassee County will eventually flow to Lake Huron, while the remaining rainfall will end up in Lake Michigan. The sub-watersheds that drain to Lake Huron are the Shiawassee and the Flint River Watersheds. The Looking Glass and Maple River Watersheds flow to Lake Michigan. The Shiawassee Conservation District works across the watersheds in the county to promote Best Management Practices and good stewardship of our natural resources. 

You can easily find what watershed you are in by visiting the U.S. EPA Surf Your Watershed website.

michigan watersheds   county watersheds

The Water Cycle
About three-fourths of Earth's surface is covered with water. Relatively little, only about 1% of this large amount of water, is usable fresh water. Of the remaining, 97% is salt water in the ocean and 2% is frozen as ice at the North and South Poles. If all the water in the world fit in a bath tub (about 30 gallons or 114 liters), fresh usable water would fill slightly more than one teaspoon. Although this might not sound like a lot, it is enough to support all life, as long as we take care of it and respect it. All life requires fresh water to survive. It’s hard to believe that all the water that is on earth now is the same water that has been here for millions of years. But this is true because water is an efficient recycler and in constant motion around the planet.

The Water Cycle is the endless movement of water around the planet. Earth's natural systems are constantly moving and using water. As a liquid, gas or solid, powered by the sun and the force of gravity, water travels over, under and above the surface of the Earth in an incredible journey called the Water Cycle.

As water moves through the Water Cycle, it changes form. The state of the water changes from liquid to gas and becomes part of the atmosphere, but the pollution that may have contaminated that water will remain on Earth. This is why each of us must take care to not pollute our watersheds so that the water we have now is safe for future generations to enjoy.

water cycle

Pollution in a Watershed
Pollution of all kinds can have an impact on our water and watersheds. In general there are two categories of pollutants, POINT SOURCE POLLUTION and NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION.

Point Source Pollution
Point Source Pollution is water pollution that comes from an easily identifiable, distinct location though a direct route. This type of pollution is easily identified and may or may not be a permitted discharge.

Non-Point Source Pollution
As rainfall flows across agricultural and urban areas, it washes soil particles, pesticides, fertilizers, pet wastes, oil, road salt and other toxic materials into lakes and streams, becoming what we call nonpoint source pollution. All of the small contributions add up to some really serious problems.

Types of Non-Point Source Pollutants
Sediments—As sediment is deposited on the stream bottom, it destroys small habitat areas that are needed by aquatic organisms to survive, such as fish spawning areas. As sediment clouds the water and covers plant leaves, sunlight penetration is reduced and desirable plants cannot survive.
Nutrients—Excess phosphorus and nitrogen leads to increases in weed and algae growth, which in turn add to the problem of sunlight penetration. As this excess algae growth decomposes, oxygen is depleted from the water, making it difficult for fish and other aquatic organisms to survive.
Bacteria—Fecal coliform bacteria and other pathogens from livestock manure, pet wastes and improperly maintained septic systems can cause the water to become unsafe for drinking, swimming, boating and other water recreational activities.
Toxic Substances—Oil, grease, paints and pesticides can be toxic to humans, wildlife, fish and other aquatic life.

water cycle

What is E. coli?

E. coli is the abbreviated name of the bacteria Escherichia coli; although the presence of E. coli and other bacteria within our intestines are necessary for us to remain healthy, some strains are harmful if they get into our bloodstreams or tissues. E. coli is a dangerous pollutant in water because it can cause serious illness and infection if ingested or if it enters the bloodstream via an open sore. Sources of E. coli may include household septic systems that are not properly functioning, illicit septic system connections to surface water, runoff from livestock feedlots, land application of manure at improper rates or just prior to a storm event, pet and wildlife waste.

E. coli contamination is preventable by taking care of to properly maintain household septic systems, managing livestock manure, applying manure at the proper rates and timing, picking up after pets, and not feeding wildlife. Taking care to prevent waste from entering our water helps to create a healthier watershed for us all to enjoy.

How to Be a Good Steward

As water moves across the land, it is influenced by the type of environment it goes through. You influence what happens in your watershed, and what happens in your watershed affects the larger watershed downstream. Non-point source pollution is a concern everyone should have. Our individual actions do have a significant impact on water quality. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Have your septic system inspected and pumped out every three to five years.
  • Fence livestock to prevent access to streams.
  • Stabilize streambanks with vegetation.
  • Install buffer strips adjacent to all waterways.
  • Apply the proper amount and type of fertilizer following soil test recommendations.
  • Don’t apply fertilizer at times when it might be washed away by rain.
  • Apply fertilizers only when necessary and according to the instructions on the label.
  • Recycle grass clippings and leaves by mulching or composting.
  • Dispose of household hazardous waste and unwanted or unused pesticides properly.
  • Direct roof runoff into a grassed area and ensure roof drains are not connected to sanitary or storm sewer systems.
  • Seed grass, install sod or plant ground cover to reduce soil erosion.
  • Be active in spreading the word of reducing non-point source pollution.

Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed
The Shiawassee River is approximately 110 miles in length and flows in a northerly direction, discharging into the Saginaw River. The Shiawassee River Watershed covers 742,400 acres of mixed agricultural and urban land uses. The watershed itself is shaped like an hourglass and stretches from the northwest corner of Oakland County to the southeast corner of Midland County, narrowing in the middle to a few miles wide near the city of Corunna.

The Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed includes the central portion of the Shiawassee River Watershed and covers 138,178 total acres, predominantly in Shiawassee County with portions extending north into Saginaw, southeast into Genesee and south into Livingston Counties.

Since 2000, the Shiawassee Conservation District has worked toward the improvement of impairments in the Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed by developing an approved watershed management plan, implementing an information and education component and adopting Best Management Practices in areas of concern.

Over the past two years, the Shiawassee Conservation District has worked to update the Watershed Management Plan (WMP) for the Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed to meet new requirements put forth by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The updated plan was recently approved by the DEQ and is now eligible for federal and state funding.

A priority for the development of this WMP is to focus local efforts on stream reaches within the Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed that do not comply with water quality standards. These water bodies are listed on the State of Michigan 303(d) Water Quality Standards Non-Attainment List for Water Bodies Requiring Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDLs). The MDEQ identified these TMDL water bodies as having a presence of E. coli bacteria causing a potential for health risks and significantly compromising recreational use of the waters. Additionally, water bodies in the Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed are listed on the State of Michigan 4c Impaired Waters Report because of compromised habitat for fish and wildlife. These areas are the primary focus for implementation actions, with emphasis on impairments identified during a stream reconnaissance survey of the Watershed.

The information in this document will be utilized to secure funding to address resource concerns in the Watershed through the implementation of long-term, physical changes to problem areas. The development of this WMP has involved a cooperative effort by government agencies, municipalities, businesses and landowners. If you are interested in reviewing this document, please contact the Shiawassee Conservation District.

Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed Planning Project MDEQ Fact Sheet

Mid-Shiawassee River Watershed Information & Education MDEQ Fact Sheet


michigan watersheds  

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